Until recently, Samsung was the only major company releasing Android tablets on a regular basis. However, the form factor has had a renaissance in 2021, with new devices from Xiaomi, Nokia, Lenovo and Realme.
It puts Samsung’s position as the de facto Android tablet maker under threat, especially if you’re already wincing at the prices of its flagship slates. The Tab S7 FE is pitched as an affordable alternative to the high-end Tab S7 and S7+, but makes some significant compromises to reach its mid-range price point.
Design & build
Basic S Pen included
Dual stereo speakers
Samsung’s high-end tablets usually impress when it comes to design, and it’s the same here. The Tab S7 FE combines the usual glass front with an aluminium back, making it easier to hold and more resistant to fingerprint smudges than glass-backed devices.
This stripped-back, minimalist aesthetic is something I really like, and it gives the illusion of a device that’s significantly more expensive. In fact, I had a hard time telling it apart from the flagship Tab S7+ on first impressions. One of the only real giveaways is the rear camera module, which houses one lens rather than two. More on how that performs later.
Below it, the magnetic charging strip for the S Pen is also gone. That’s because the stylus included in the box is a passive version, meaning it doesn’t need to hold a charge for basic uses. It can still be attached there or on the sides of the device, but weak magnets mean it’s not worth it. If you’re planning on getting regular use out of the S Pen, I’d recommend getting a case with stylus storage.
There’s really not much else to report on the back of the device, particularly on the black model I tested. The silver version is also relatively muted, but green and pink options help the S7 FE stand out a bit more if that’s something you’d prefer.
However, you’ll spend much more time looking at the 12.4in screen, surrounded by a slim bezel which gives it an 84.6% screen-to-body ratio – that’s identical to the Tab S7+. Even using the device with both hands can feel cumbersome at times, especially when the S7 FE weighs in at 608g.
There’s still space for a 5Mp front-facing camera with face unlock support, a downgrad compared to the regular S7 and S7+.
Another area that’s been scaled back is audio, with a pair of stereo speakers as opposed to the quad setup on the flagship tablets. Music loses some of its bass and definition as a result, but speech is largely unaffected. Audio remains one of the S7 FE’s strengths, helping to deliver a more immersive experience.
Speaker grilles are placed at the top and bottom of the devices, in a position where they’re not obstructed in landscape mode. The only other feature of note here is a USB-C port for charging. As is the case on Samsung’s other high-end tablets, there’s no 3.5mm headphone jack.
You’ll find connectors for docking the S7 FE into a keyboard cover on one side of the device, but I didn’t have one of these to hand for this review. The regular volume rocker and power button are on the other, although a long press of the latter still annoyingly triggers Bixby by default. This can be changed to display power options in Settings, but still feels unnecessary.
The 5G model I tested also has a SIM tray which doubles as a microSD card tray on cheaper Wi-Fi-only models.
12.4in LCD panel
Only 60Hz refresh rate
Let’s talk about the main event. I mentioned earlier that the S7 FE’s display was the same size as the S7+, but that’s where the similarities end. The 12.4in panel here has a slightly lower resolution (1600×2560 as opposed to 1752×2800), but it’s also LCD instead of OLED and tops out at 60Hz. Refresh rate is arguably the biggest loss here – I really missed the fluid, responsive 120Hz panel on Samsung’s flagship slate. The S7 FE feels sluggish by comparison, and soon leads to a less enjoyable experience.
It would feel like an acceptable compromise, but Xiaomi’s Pad 5 is proof that it doesn’t need to be exclusive to premium hardware. Using LCD is less of a blow, but means you miss out on the deeper blacks and improved contrast of an OLED screen.
Despite these two drawbacks, the display still doesn’t feel like a weakness. It offers an impressive level of detail and vivid colours, making for an immersive viewing experience. Watching YouTube or Netflix is a real highlight, even on videos that are capped at 1080p.
It also hit a maximum brightness of 411 nits in testing, making use in direct sunlight a real possibility. Unless you’re directly comparing it to Samsung’s flagship tablets, you’ll probably be satisfied with what the S7 FE has to offer.
Specs and performance
Snapdragon 750G on 5G models
More powerful Snapdragon 778G on Wi-Fi only
Solid performance doesn’t extend to gaming
On the Tab S7 FE, choosing a model with 5G support is about far more than just cellular connectivity; it also means the device uses a completely different chipset.
On 5G models, this is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 750G, while Wi-Fi-only configurations use the slightly more powerful Snapdragon 778G – that’s despite both having a 5G modem built-in. It also means the integrated GPUs are different, with 5G devices using the Adreno 619 while Wi-Fi models step up to an Adreno 642L.
This decision has presumably been taken with price in mind, given the additional costs of adding 5G support. I can only comment on the mid-spec 5G model reviewed, which pairs it with 6GB of RAM.
In general, performance from the Tab S7 FE is sold. You can expect a smooth and responsive experience while browsing the web, scrolling social media and streaming videos. Multitasking also works well, with the large display coming into its own. There are occasional stutters and hesitations, but nothing too significant.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t quite extend to mobile gaming. Loading up a demanding title such as Call of Duty: Mobile and Asphalt 9 is fine, but jumping into an online game typically means plenty of lag and some input delay. I also found FIFA Mobile to stutter quite a lot, making it more frustrating than fun. Casual games such as 8 Ball Pool are well within reach, but it’s worth looking elsewhere if you’re serious about mobile gaming.
This mediocre performance is reflected in the benchmarks below, where the Tab S7 FE trails many of the best tablets you can buy – including some more affordable devices:
Internal storage is less of a concern, despite the entry-level model being limited to 64GB. This can be upgraded to 128GB (the model I tested) or 256GB, but all can be expanded via the microSD card slot.
One UI 3.1 over Android 11
One UI 4 (Android 12) update expected soon
Still doesn’t feel optimised for tablets
The Tab S7 FE runs Samsung’s One UI skin over Android 11. It’s version 3.1 here, although an update to the new One UI 4 is expected soon – that brings many of Android 12’s new features with it.
The software experience out of the box will be extremely familiar to anyone who has used a recent Samsung phone, and that’s not a good thing. Various elements of the UI – such as icons, the notification shade and Settings menu – just feel like they’ve been enlarged to fit the bigger screen. That extends to third-party apps including Twitter and Instagram, making for a frustrating user experience.
One notable exception is multitasking, where using two apps in split-screen mode feels genuinely intuitive. It’s also great to have the Google Discover feed available via a right swipe from the home screen, although it’s the most glaring example of software that’s been designed for a phone.
However, there’s real hope for moving forward in the form of Android 12L. Google says the Android 12 spin-off has been specifically created with big-screen devices such as tablets in mind. Adding a two-column notification shade, dedicated taskbar and improved letterboxing (smaller black bars around content) would all make a big difference.
Until Android 12L arrives at some point in 2022, software is one of the Tab S7 FE’s major shortcomings.
Cameras & battery life
Single 8Mp rear camera, 5Mp front-facing
Great battery life
45W charging support, but only 15W out of the box
You probably aren’t buying a tablet for its cameras. But if tablet photography is important to you, it’s worth looking elsewhere. The Tab S7 FE has a single 8Mp rear lens, ditching the 13Mp wide and 5Mp ultrawide from the Tab S7 and S7+.
Stills from the device are predictably mediocre. You can get usable stills in good lighting conditions, but it regularly struggles with exposure and colour accuracy. The 5Mp front-facing sensor takes decent selfies, but you probably won’t be uploading them to Instagram anytime soon.
On the video side, the S7 FE is limited to 1080p footage at 30fps. You miss out on the option for 4K, but that won’t be a big loss for most people.
Battery life is altogether more important, and it’s an area where the tablet excels. The combination of a 10,090mAh battery and less power-hungry LCD display means the S7 FE can run and run. Unless you’re constantly pushing the device to its limits, two days of usage is well within reach.
That’s reflected in PCMark’s Work 3.0 battery test, designed to simulate real-world usage. With brightness set to 200 nits, I recorded an impressive 12 hours and 55 minutes – that’s significantly better than you’ll find on most tablets.
The S7 FE supports 45W fast wired charging, but you’ll need to buy a separate adapter. Using the 15W one in the box meant 16% charge in 30 minutes. As a result, you’ll be waiting several hours for a full charge.
Price and value for money
As you might expect, there’s plenty of variation when it comes to Tab S7 FE pricing.
Wi-Fi only models currently start at £449 / US$529.99 for 64GB of storage, while you’ll pay at least £519 / US$669.99 for 5G support. US pricing remains the same as at launch, but this reflects some useful UK discounts on the £519 (Wi-Fi) and £589 (5G) starting prices.
The top-spec model includes 5G support and 128GB of storage – it’ll cost you £559 if you go direct but isn’t available in the US. However, there are currently some great deals available via third-party retailers.
It’s these sorts of deals that the Tab S7 FE needs to become competitive. Its RRP is too close to the superior iPad Air (2020) and regular Tab S7, but it’s easier to recommend at these more affordable prices. Competition among tablets is heating up, though – it’s not just about Apple and Samsung these days.
The Tab S7 FE is a predictably cautious release from Samsung. It retains the look and feel of the flagship Tab S7 and S7+, but makes big compromises in other areas.
Dropping the display to a 60Hz LCD panel means the screen is pretty good, rather than one of the best you’ll find in any tablet. A chipset downgrade leads to sub-par performance while gaming, despite most other tasks being fine. It’s also heavier, with weaker cameras and two fewer speakers.
Individually, these changes don’t make too much of a difference to the experience. But combined, it’s difficult not to feel like you’re getting short-changed. Superb battery life is the key exception to this and it’s nice to have an S Pen included in the box, but it’s no wonder Samsung is dropping the price just months after it launched.
If you can find a great deal on the Tab S7 FE, it’s still worth picking up for content consumption and other basic tasks. Otherwise, you’ll find better value for money elsewhere.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 FE: Specs
Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G (5G models), Snapdragon 778G (Wi-Fi models)
Adreno 619 GPU (5G), Adreno 642L (Wi-Fi)
64GB/128GB/256GB storage (expandable up to 1TB)
12.4in LCD display (1600×2560), 60Hz
8Mp rear camera
5Mp front-facing camera
Dual stereo speakers
10,090 mAh battery
45W fast wired charging
284.8 x 185 x 6.3 mm